53 years on – how much has Cambridge really changed since King Charles graduated?
A uni (still) fit for a King?
Avid users of TikTok over the past few weeks will likely have come across news of Netflix drama “The Crown,” taking over the cobbled streets of Cambridge. As the filming of series six continues to follow the Royal family’s previous adventures, Royal history continues to progress as the Coronation of King Charles III hits screens across the world on Saturday.
The combination of the Coronation, the oddly topical filming, and the emergence of countless old photos floating around the internet left me wondering whether “Charles’ Cambridge” was really that different from how ours is now – back when he was a student at Trinity in the 1960s.
When mooching around for article content, I stumbled across a rather confusing image: a young Prince Charles, donned in double denim (plus cravat?), awkwardly perched in a dustbin.
(NB: I have seen similar, albeit less classy, scenes in Market Square post-Glitterbomb but I somehow doubt that the Gardies/Trailer of Life/McDonald’s debacle featured heavily circa 1969).
It all made far more sense once I learned of the Cambridge Footlights, one of Britain’s oldest student sketch comedy troupes.
Even though I may not be entertaining enough to stand amongst comedic royalty (haha), I do quite like to think that where there’s an opportunity for an obnoxious costume, we students do it pretty well. The needle and thread even made an exclusive appearance for my Mario outfit, and whilst the low-effort, Amazon-bought Halloween costume doesn’t quite compare to a Footlights performance, I do think it’s quite nice to see that Cambridge students aren’t uptight enough to resist a chance to dress-up.
Although the reason for Charles’ delegation to the rubbish bin continues to remain a mystery to me (perhaps ask me again post-tripos…), my point still stands. Students love a bit of drama.
Drama Queen (King?)
As well as his appearances as part of the Cambridge Footlights, the then-Prince was a keen member of the Dryden Society, Trinity College’s very own drama collective. There’s footage online of the young King’s involvement, including the comedic delivery of a spoof weather forecast, falling off stage with a fishing rod and the mimicking of a German-sounding accent.
With the Dryden Society remaining very much active, it appears as though the Prince’s uni experience wasn’t too different to ours after all. Acting talent established, it’s clear that he was a keen amateur dramatic.
Not that I’ve ever heard the King sing but (apologies, your Majesty) I can’t imagine that it comes anywhere close to mine and my College Wife’s generous contribution to Pembroke karaoke night back in Michaelmas. Our seasonally inappropriate rendition of “Fairytale of New York” was probably not quite enough to rival the Coronation performances of Andrea Bocelli and Lionel Richie, but at least there’s a remaining enjoyment for “sophisticated” entertainment across the uni.
Moving on from festivities to the slog of normality (if Cambridge can even be described as normal?), I also came across an image of the Prince in his kitchen, somewhat Nigella Lawson-esquely tending to a loaf of bread. From what I can tell he’s been pictured a few times in his gyp and frankly, it’s reassuring to see that Cambridge cooking skills have remained at such a… high… standard.
Rest assured, the legacy continues. Whilst I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if my kitchen hadn’t been updated since Charles’ matriculation in 1967, it’s humble enough so as to allow me my daily 9am bagel and bi-weekly pan of pasta, somewhat conveniently marking the bounds of my culinary ability.
The young Charles was also infamous among his peers not only for his Royal heritage, but for being the only student in Trinity to have been bestowed with the honour of having his own bathroom. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous, but there’s something quite exhilarating about the towel x dressing gown x slipper combo as you make a mad dash down to the basement showers.
So, whilst I’d like to think that I appear as put together as the young Prince, I somehow imagine that the reality is quite different.
Finally, gowns. Yes, we still wear them. No, I don’t like the Trinity blue.
I am envious of the formality of the 60s though – there is something quite charming about the tweed jackets, dress shoes and old hats that makes Cambridge just look more… “Cambridge.”
Whilst Charles hasn’t been fortunate enough to experience the liberating joy of wearing a gown on a Voi (long story), I am very very glad that many of the University’s quirks have been retained in recent years.
As shown, most all elements of the King’s university experience can be successfully translated over to my mere two terms at this uni. Jaunty hats and Royal lineage aside, however, it doesn’t seem that our Cambridge experiences are worlds apart.
Whilst the study experience and the general social climate in 2023 have likely progressed massively in comparison to the experience of a late 60s Cantabrigian, there are far more similarities than I first thought. Only by procrastination-scrolling through my camera roll have I been able to see the parallels between us and Charles.
With this ex-student’s Coronation today – fan of the Royals or not – you cannot deny that our institutional link to King Charles III is actually pretty cool.
If this doesn’t give us bragging rights over Oxf*rd, I have no idea what does.
Feature image credit: Anna Peterson